Kaylees Strength

Kaylees Strength

One powerlifters journey through tragedy to found both herself and healing. 

By Wade Johnson 

In all the years I’ve been involved in strength sports, I can tell you that there are so many people and events that I’ll never be able to count that were incredible and enriched my life. However, occasionally, there is an occurrence where the blessing that initially belongs to someone else engulfs us all, and you see a life change. I want to share the story of Kay Kay. Kaylee Brace Wagnon.

To tell this story, I have to share a tragic moment. In August 2020, Kaylee’s brother suddenly passed. It was unexpected and shocking and left us all reeling. I remember arriving at the funeral and Kay rushing over and sobbing in my arms. It was heart-rendering. We all got through the funeral and services and then comes the task of moving forward from something like this. Kaylee has a great family, a great husband, colleagues, and friends. She also has a team family at the gym. This is where Kaylee came to me and told me she wanted to do a powerlifting meet in honor of her brother. So, I took the time to create a program for her to get her ready to train for a powerlifting meet. And so she did. She did honor her brother; she did everything required and followed through, but the story doesn’t stop there. Amid something so tragic and such a loss, honoring her brother’s memory and his love for powerlifting, she found centering of her own. In conversations, she and I spoke of how to find ways to cope and deal with it, and for her, the training gave her day a bit more purpose. 

She now had goals, and pushing herself allowed her to allow herself some grace in such a difficult time.
Kaylee has now competed a few times, hit some personal records, and continues pushing herself and working hard at the goals she has set for herself. We have now found a spot of joy when we can recall her
brother doing something in the gym, a lift and pr, and just silly things he’d do.
One of the things we teach and learn at our gym is that powerlifting is something we do; it is not who we are. That said, how we pursue strength and become a competitor is very defining and creates a skill set that can serve us in any capacity. For Kaylee, powerlifting changed her life and the trajectory it was going. It became a vehicle to find purpose in everything, even when things were challenging and sad.

At this point, I want Kaylee to tell her story, and then I will follow up. This is what Kaylee sent to me when we spoke of this article.
“My younger brother Grant and I both grew up as athletes in various sports. Though we gravitated toward different ones through school, we were both introduced to the Team Ogre Powerlifting crew at young ages. Our growth and outcomes were ultimately different, but Team Ogre was life-changing for us. 

As a young female navigating the world of health, fitness, and beauty standards, I would come and go from the gym over the years. My relationship wasn’t always consistent, but I still had my fair share of bench videos and PRs that made me proud. However, for Grant, powerlifting was his thing. He was strong—like powerfully strong. He was consistent, and he made a family with the Ogre Team. Over time, he became an example of a great powerlifter and teammate. The powerlifting lifestyle, training, and family were a blessing for him and, as Wade described, would also become an unforeseen blessing for me. After my brother’s tragic passing, I was left spiraling. With few outlets for my grief, the gym remained constant. I began to see the beauty in redefining what strength, health, purpose, and the gym meant to me. 

Strength training became a source of sanity; it was an outlet that allowed me to channel my emotions physically and mentally. This space brought me to one of my original loves: competition. I was pulled back to my home gym with Team Ogre through tragedy and grief. Reconnecting with Wade and the Team Ogre group brought, at times, difficult yet fond memories of my brother and me growing up in the gym. I remembered Grant and felt his presence through the sport of powerlifting while also doing something that would continue to heal me longer than I ever expected. At first, my goal was to honor my brother and find a connection by doing something he was passionate about. Then, I decided I wanted to commit and fully compete in a powerlifting meet—something I had never done before but knew would make Grant proud. 

I am not sure how seriously myself or Wade took this initially, but after completing a training cycle and feeling the rush of adrenaline on the platform at my first actual meet, I was hooked. I found myself sharing much of that same passion for the sport I watched changed my brother’s life; I didn’t fully realize it yet, but it also changed mine.
The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve gained, and the joy and guidance I have gotten through powerlifting have been incredible. I’ve learned invaluable things about myself through pushing strength limits, stretching mental capabilities, attempting PRs, and enforcing control. Things like time management and consistency have transcended beyond
the gym to other successes in my personal and professional life. Powerlifting began as a connection point to my brother and a guiding light through tragedy, and now the sport has led me to a healthier and more purposeful lifestyle. 

I am forever grateful for Wade, Team Ogre and the powerlifting community for embracing me at my most vulnerable and truly changing my life.”

As you can see, this is a powerful story. I hope it shows how kindness, empathy, and simply being there for someone can change a life. Also, the sport we care so much about can offer someone footing and the ability to get one’s bearings. Speaking for all of us at The Ogre Compound, we miss Grant. It is a story I will tell when the time is right. Still, Kaylee’s story of overcoming and overcoming such a difficult time shows that we can move forward and accomplish great things with love, empathy, understanding, and a shoulder to lean on.

In closing, I hope you are inspired and touched. I have a great love for the Brace family and Kay Kay, and I cherish this great relationship. Until next time
Lift heavy, train smart, and eat more pizza!

Follow Wade on Instagram 

NFM Staff
Author: NFM Staff

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